Hospital increases focus on customer service

Poll highlights compassion’s healing role

An "all-employee" guest-relations program at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago aims to increase both the hospital’s market share and its Press Ganey Associates patient satisfaction scores.

The effort began about two years ago, with a program called "Delivering the Promise" that introduced 12 service standards of excellence, reports Gillian Cappiello, CHAM, senior director of access services and chief privacy officer. That list of standards begins with the directive, "Make eye contact, smile, and greet each customer/employee immediately." (See the list below.)

"Everyone was required to attend a four-hour part one’ training session," she adds, "and we focused on those [12 standards] throughout the session." In tandem with that training, Cappiello says, teams made up of two managers directed an initiative called "10 a day," in which they would sit down with staff for 10 minutes each day and target one of the standards. "They were responsible for creating thought-provoking exercises around those standards."

Eventually, she notes, managers were given the option of conducting the 10-minute sessions weekly, rather than daily. In addition to the 12 general service standards, Cappiello adds, there are standards adapted for each department. (See access standards.)

Part two of the program, which she described in late March as 70% completed, is titled "Service Recovery" and follows this "HEART" model, as in "Take the problem to heart":

  • Hear what they have to say.
  • Empathize with them.
  • Apologize for the situation.
  • Respond to their need by . . .
  • Taking action and following up.

After several cycles using the service excellence standards, the focus in the "10 a day" CHECK sessions has shifted to 10 areas identified from surveys by South Bend, IN-based Press Ganey Associates as having the greatest impact in improving patient satisfaction, Cappiello says. "If you improve in these areas, it should be able to impact your score."

Those areas, as described on the survey, are:

  1. Response to concerns/complaints
  2. Staff included you in decisions regarding treatment
  3. Staff sensitive to inconvenience
  4. Nurses educated regarding condition/care
  5. Staff addressed emotional/spiritual needs
  6. Kept informed regarding condition/treatment
  7. Nurses kept you informed
  8. Wait time for tests/treatments
  9. Concern for comfort during tests/treatments
  10. Attention to special/personal needs

Another aspect of the program that is being rolled out is "scripting," she says. The practice is already in place in some areas, such as access services, where employees are given scripts to use when asking for copays or explaining an Advance Beneficiary Notice to Medicare patients. "In a couple of months, it is expected that all departments will have scripts to greet customers and to close a customer interaction, as well as to deal with a complaint or concern," Cappiello adds.

Employees in departments that typically respond to a large number of outside callers have received telephone customer service training, she notes, and have been called by secret shoppers and rated on their customer service skills.

Studying compassion

While there appears to be a fairly common belief that compassion has a positive effect on healing, Swedish Covenant Hospital recently polled a sampling of adults in its service area on Chicago’s North Side to "get some numbers behind what people thought" on the subject, Cappiello says.

That study, conducted by the hospital’s marketing department, found that 95% of consumers agree that compassion aids in the healing process and 88% see compassion as an important or very important aspect of health care, points out Tim Nelson, public relations manager.

Nearly six out of 10 survey respondents said they believe that caring behavior either speeds up the healing process or helps, and is necessary for healing, he says.

Asked about specific behaviors in the health care setting, they ranked treating patients with dignity — cited by 84% as a "very compassionate trait" — above all others, Nelson adds.

Somewhat surprisingly, he says, when asked what professions they thought of as most compassionate, respondents put health care workers first, over clergy and social workers.

The survey results confirm that Swedish Covenant, which has historically focused strongly on providing compassionate care, is putting its emphasis in the right direction, Cappiello notes. "If our profession is seen as the most compassionate, then — while compassion is not necessarily something we can teach people — we certainly should focus on it."

[Editor’s note: Gillian Cappiello can be reached at (773) 878-8200, ext. 5051, or at]